Asian Cup 2015: Uzbekistan have revenge in mind for hosts Australia
Uzbekistan may be Group B’s most dangerous dark horses and one of the Asian Cup’s most intriguing underdogs.
While their record against pool favourites Saudi Arabia makes for tough reading, the White Wolves have beaten China four times in seven clashes, and have never lost to North Korea in five encounters.
This should spur the double landlocked Central Asian side onto success, and the squad will be keen to make amends for crashing out of the 2011 tournament.
Hosts Australia schooled the White Wolves with a 6-0 drubbing to prevent them from reaching the first final in their history. Despite a relatively short record in the Asian Cup, Uzbekistan enjoyed two quarter final finishes before reaching the final four last time, and will be eager to go one better in Oceania.
If their potential journey into the latter stages includes another match-up with the Socceroos, so much the better for spectators.
Much will be expected of Lokomotiv Moscow left back Vitaliy Denisov, who represented his club in the Europa League this campaign, and is one of the most recognisable faces in Uzbekistan’s squad.
The flying full back began his career in Russia with capital rivals CSKA, before eventually carving out a career for himself with the Steam Locomotives, where he has proven to have an eye for an assist.
Skipper Server Djeparov is also an influential figure for the White Wolves and, as fourth all-time top scorer for his nation, will once again lead his pack with aplomb.
An attacking midfielder who can also play further forward as a support striker, Djeparov, a two-time Asian Footballer of the Year winner, is also chasing the record to be most capped player for his country.
Uzbekistan teammate and cultured midfield anchorman Timur Kapadze currently lays claim to that feat, having represented the White Wolves on 111 occasions. In an encouraging sign, both he and talisman Djeparov have been on target in the warm-up to this continental cup.
Highly-rated Igor Seedev, still aged just 21, could be a White Wolf cub for the future, and a solution to the striker conundrum Uzbekistan have suffered from since the international retirement of all-time top scorer Maksim Shatskikh.
A powerful frontman, Seedev has four goals in 9 caps, and will be aiming to make his mark in Australia, should he be selected for the final squad.
Uzbekistan certainly have a fair chance of emerging from Group B unscathed and, having made it past the first stage three times on the trot, may not be such a dark horse after all.